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Verona – City of the Vento

In Italy’s North East, Verona is one of those fantastic Italian cities full of the joys of past and the present. Roman artifacts abound. Even walking down the street you can stop in your tracks as you pass across the top of a Roman road. Breakfast in my hotel – a wonderful mix of cosy apartments and luxury rooms – was a great way to start the day. The dining room was circular, the centerpiece an amazing thousand year old mosaic floor under glass. And the steaming silver jugs of thick hot chocolate Italian-style, fresh fragrant, buttery brioche-type rolls and apricot nectar on the menu had me in raptures.

Breakfast in my hotel – a wonderful mix of cosy apartments and luxury rooms – was a great way to start the day. The dining room was circular, the centerpiece an amazing thousand year old mosaic floor under glass. And the steaming silver jugs of thick hot chocolate Italian-style, fresh fragrant, buttery brioche-type rolls and apricot nectar on the menu had me in raptures.

Happy, I set of in search of the legend this place is famous for; immortalized by Shakespeare as Romeo and Juliet. Whether these are in fact the houses of the Capulets and Montescues as in the play, I am not convinced, but I made the pilgrimage anyway. At Juliet’s digs you can see the very bedroom balcony she stood on watching Romeo in the courtyard below. Not far across town, you can even visit the tombs where the lovers lie. The cemetery in a cloister garden is worth a visit, even if these ancestral remains are no more than scant inspiration for the great Baird. But what blew me away was the graffiti. It covers the tombs, the walls of the 13th century homes, the staircases – any available space. I thought it was pure sacrilege, but then this is Italy – where graffiti is an art form and expressive Italians are everywhere!

I don’t know if it’s because I did so much walking in this compact city that hunger was justified, or if it was mere anticipation of another wonderful gourmet experience, but it was easy to satisfy. My hotel came with an espresso machines as standard, so I headed off to the corner deli to stock up on coffee and essential supplies. I bought crusty rustic bread (put on scales and priced by the kilo), all sorts of antipasti – juicy semi-dried tomatoes, artichokes, cured meats, pears and blood oranges sheathed in wonderful thin printed paper wrappers.

Everything I tried was delicious. The pizza with its simple crust and few toppings. The rich creamy sauces over pasta. The calzone (oozing mozzarella and char-grilled aubergine, zucchini and capsicum) bought at stalls in the buzzing fruit and vegetable market that has been held at the Piazza delle Erbe since the middle ages. I stood on the square taking in the vibrant everyday life, watching the locals choose their produce with such care, joking with the sellers, racing about on Vespas, hurrying home for lunch past rows of frescoed buildings, resplendent with the patina of age.

Like many European cities, life here seems to stop – or at least retreat indoors – in the middle of the day. Everything closes – shops, schools, offices, as families return home for lunch. I was jealous even wondering what was on their tables, and had to content myself to window shopping till mid-afternoon when the city once again came alive.

Shopping was great here. I flew home with 5 pairs of magnificent Italian leather shoes, a leather overnight bag that is admired so often I am afraid to let it out of my sight, delicate woolen jumpers, delectable chocolates, and too many bottles of the local grappa. I reckon grappa is an acquired taste, but this fiery spirit (similar to schnapps) is an authentic reminder of the place, and comes in so many flavours and fancy bottles it makes perfect presents.

The regional wine was more to my liking. I washed down many a fine local drop, including some very impressive white with a plate of Vitello Tonnato I can still taste. Melt in your mouth pink veal, smothered in perfect harmony with tuna sauce was a memorable meal had in one of the city’s many fine dining restaurants.

I was lucky to be hosted by people who lived in Verona, and welcomed in true Italian style to their home in the hills on the edge of the city. We feasted on local treats in an elegant house protected by law to ensure its fine architectural heritage lived on. Nestled in the hills, with the Adige river running through it, Verona is indeed picturesque.

There’s only one thing I regret; not going to the opera, where up to 22,000 people can experience performances in the ancient Roman amphitheatre in the city centre. For now I have to be content with imagining the spectacle under the stars as I climbed alone to the top of the arena and admired the view from the top. One day, Verona will draw me back and I’ll swap my trainers for evening shoes and attend Aida for sure.

Written by: Amanda Livingstone

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